Naturalization Following the Passing of your U.S. citizen spouse: 3 versus 5 years

In the face of a terrible tragedy, foreign national spouses can face even more hardship after their U.S. citizen husband or wife passes. Typically, foreign nationals who are green card holders through their U.S. citizen spouse have the opportunity to apply for U.S. citizenship following a period of three years in the U.S. Unfortunately, the green card holding widows and widowers of U.S. citizens will face obstacles for future naturalization following the death of their spouse.

Immigration and Nationality Act

Under U.S. immigration law, permanent residents who have lived with their U.S. citizen spouses in the U.S. for at least three years may apply for U.S. citizenship at the end of three years. This allows spouses of U.S. citizens to apply for citizenship two years earlier than required for other permanent residents. Sadly, those individuals who have tragically lost their spouses before applying for or during their application for naturalization may not apply after three years of residence and instead wait the typically five years of residency. According the Immigration and Nationality Act:

A person is ineligible for naturalization as the spouse of a United States citizen under Section 319(a) of the Act if, before or after the filing of the application, the marital union ceases to exist due to death or divorce, or the citizen spouse has expatriated.

Under these restrictions, the surviving spouse may not apply for naturalization as a spouse of a U.S. citizen. Regardless if the application was submitted before the untimely passing of the U.S. citizen sponsor, the application for citizenship becomes invalid at the time death. As such, the INA clarifies that an applicant is ineligible to naturalize as the spouse of a U.S. citizen if their spouse passes away “any time prior to the applicant taking the Oath of Allegiance.” The only exception applies to certain widows or widowers of U.S. citizens who passed away during active-duty status in the U.S. armed forces.

Major USCIS Changes: Update on RFE & NOID

On September 11, 2018, the United States Customs and Immigration Service will adopt new guidelines for the issuance of Request for Evidence (RFE) and Notice of Intent to Deny (NOID). Through no change to the laws of legal immigration, these new guidelines present one of the greatest threats to legal immigration in recent history.

Overview of Changes

In a series of policy memorandums, USCIS gave notice of new guidance for adjudicating officers. This guidance allows adjudicators to deny a request for immigration benefits without issuing an RFE or NOID. Previously, USCIS required adjudicators to send notice to applicants who provided insufficient evidence for an application or petition (RFE & NOID). Without a barrier to outright denial, those applying for immigration benefits can now receive denials if adjudicators determine that there is insufficient evidence.

Who is at Risk?

All applicants, from applications for naturalization to applications filed under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), are at risk under these new guidelines. After September 11th, applicants will be at risk of outright denial of their application or petition. With full discretionary power, USCIS adjudicators will be unforgiving of even small errors in applications. Therefore, if a naturalization application is missing a single document of evidence, a USCIS adjudicator can now deny the application without sending a notice for additional information or allowing the applicant to provide an explanation for the missing evidence.

Impact of Denial

If an applicant is denied benefits, then the petitioner or applicant will have to resubmit their application. Meaning, each applicant must repay all immigration fees regardless if their current employment visa was compromised by the denial. However, this is the best case scenario considering further USCIS changes regarding Notices to Appear (NTA). Under this regulation, some applicants who receive outward denials will be required to appear before immigration court to face removal proceedings. The devastating impact of these policies will impact families and highly skilled professionals alike. As September 11thapproaches, all applicants for immigration benefits must be extremely thorough in their applications. If you require assistance with any of your applications, please feel free to schedule a consultation.

Convictions and Fraud Charges: Denaturalization in the Face of Criminal Charges

As previously reported, the United States Customs and Immigration Service (USCIS) and Department of Justice (DOJ) started a collaborative effort to find cases of fraud or misrepresentation in applications for naturalization. Already, this joint effort succeeded in denaturalizing several citizens who misrepresented themselves on their applications. Recently, naturalized citizens, who did not misrepresent themselves on their naturalization application but later were convicted of a crime, have been denaturalized on the grounds of citizenship fraud. Although these citizens were not charged of a crime at the time of their application, the DOJ has begun to pursue fraud charges against citizens who are charged of a crime afterthey applied and received citizenship. In Florida, a Miami resident of nearly thirty years, Nora Borgono, received a notice from DOJ indicating intent to denaturalize following a guilty charge that occurred after she became a citizen.

Grounds for Denaturalization

In the case of Borgono, the DOJ claims the 63-year old grandmother “concealed and affirmatively misrepresented [her] criminal conduct” during her naturalization proceedings. While Borgono was a permanent resident, she worked for a gentleman who was responsible for $24 million dollars’ worth of fraudulent loan transactions. Borgono successfully applied for citizenship before the FBI began to investigate the fraudulent transactions. Later, Borgono cooperated with FBI agents to end the fraudulent activities and received a plea deal which resulted in one year of house arrest, five years of probation, and a $5,000 fine. Two years after the end of her probationary period, Borgono received a letter of civil denaturalization complaints from the DOJ. According to the DOJ investigators, Borgono is eligible for denaturalization because she concealed criminal activity in her citizenship application, regardless if she was charged after she gained citizenship.

New Initiative from DOJ

In a statement, the DOJ made clear: “Criminals that seek citizenship in the United States and knowingly hide their criminal history have no right to keep their citizenship.” In the application for naturalization, a question states “Have you EVERcommitted, assisted in committing, or attempted to commit, a crime or offense for which you wereNOT arrested?” If a naturalized citizen commits a crime prior to receiving citizenship (regardless of conviction) then that individual is at risk for denaturalization. However, if a citizen commits a crime after they have received citizenship, they are not at risk for denaturalization. Citizens who may have received charges that extend into a period of time before gaining citizenship may now be at risk of denaturalization as the DOJ has a renewed interest in reviewing cases of suspect citizenship fraud.

Change of Address: Non-Citizens & Citizens

In most cases, the United States Customs and Immigration Service (USCIS) requires only non-U.S. citizens to report a change of address. However, if you are a U.S. citizen serving as a sponsor for a non-U.S. citizen, you may have to submit a Form I-865 to update your most recent address.

Non-U.S. Citizens

If you are a foreign national who is in the United states for a period of more than 30 days, or who is not an official government representative or diplomat for your country, you must report any change to your address within 10 days. Non-U.S. citizens can change their address online through an electronic Form AR-11. There, individuals with open or recently approved applications and petitions can amend their applications at the same time with the online change of address system. Although all non-U.S. citizens may file their Form AR-11 through the mail, the following must submit address changes through mail, not through the online portal nor through phone: Form I-360, Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er), or Special Immigrant filed as VAWA self-petitioner; Form I-914, Application for T Nonimmigrant Status (“T visa”); Form I-918, Petition for U Nonimmigrant Status (“U visa”); Form I-765V, Application for Employment Authorization for Abused Nonimmigrant Spouse; and Form I-485, Application to Adjust status as an abused spouse under the Cuban Adjustment Act. Willful failure to notify USCIS of a change of address will result in a misdemeanor charge and could result in deportation proceedings. U.S. citizens, however, must file a separate notice of address change if they are a sponsor for a non-U.S. citizen.

U.S. Citizens

If you are a sponsor for a non-citizen i.e. if any time in the past you have completed Form I-864, you will need to complete a Form I-865, Sponsor’s Notice of Change of Address, if your address changes while the sponsorship agreement is still in place. Sponsors, who are citizens of the United States, have up to 30 days to submit a signed Form I-865 to USCIS following the change in permanent address. Each sponsor must submit a separate Form I-865, regardless if they share the same address. In many cases, sponsors must submit multiple notices for each relocation while the sponsorship agreement remains in force, which can span several years. The sponsor will maintain an obligation to report a change of address until the sponsorship agreement is no longer in place (e.g. the sponsored immigrant becomes a U.S. citizen or the application is abandoned or void). Failure to report an address change may result in fines ranging from $250 to over $5,000. Upon submitting the Form I-865, sponsors may receive further correspondence from USCIS for further documentation confirming the change of address.

What is a Notice to Appear? (NTA): New Memos Hit Legal Immigration

In the last couple of weeks, the buzz surrounding recent memos released from the United States Customs and Immigration Service (USCIS) have left many on edge. In such a short period of time, USCIS has made historic levels of change to immigration law. Now, with talk of NTAs, RFEs, and NOIDs those affected by recent changes may be confused and left behind as news continues to progress. In this article, we break down the potential consequences of a Notice to Appear, or NTA, and how USCIS’s new memo endowing all adjudicating officers with the power to freely issue NTAs impacts foreign workers who are legally in the United States.

What is a Notice to Appear (NTA)?

Recently, much of national debate has centered around one form of deportation: expedited removal. Such as in the case of family separation seen in the news, undocumented foreign nationals within 100 miles of the United States Border undergo removal proceedings without a hearing before an immigration judge. Unlike expedited removal, the issuance of an NTA is the first step of a longer, more judicial deportation process. If a foreign national is found to be removable from the United States, an official federal charging document is issued in the form of an NTA. The NTA is a formal notification document stating the beginning of formal federal court proceedings. Individuals who receive an NTA must appear before an immigration judge and have the opportunity to defend their eligibility for relief from deportation, either individually or through representation through an attorney. Following the issuance of the NTA, the appearance before the immigration judge serves as an opportunity for foreign nationals to argue why they should be allowed to remain in the United States. However, failure to persuade a judge results in an order of removal and, at minimum, bans a foreign national from re-entering the United states for five years. The individual is faced with the same consequences if he or she leaved the U.S. voluntarily (self-deportation) rather than attend the court hearing. To save on court fees and possible further penalties, many opt to voluntary leave the United States upon receiving a NTA by requesting voluntary departure through the Department of Homeland Security.

Impact of USCIS Memo

As previously reported, the June memo grants USCIS officials the ability to issue NTAs without referring cases to ICE for further investigation. Soon, a foreign national working legally in the United States is at risk of receiving an NTA, and consequently at risk of deportation, if USCIS denies their application. With issuance of NTAs on the rise, there could be a record level of deportations.

Unpacking the USCIS Memorandum: NOID & RFE (Part 2 of 2)

In the past few weeks, two memorandum out of the United States Customs and Immigration Service (USCIS) have upturned years of immigration procedures. In the first memo, USCIS announced a new direction to encourage USCIS officers to freely issue notices to appear (NTA), notably for cases in which a visa application is denied. In a separate memo, USCIS announced new measures to cut down on visa processing time, however with unorthodox methods. Starting September 11th, USCIS officers may automatically deny applications that have insufficient evidence without issuing a notice of intent to deny (NOID) or request for evidence (RFE). Together, these two memos mark what could be the biggest threat to legal immigration yet.

Threats to H-1B

As previously reported, increased scrutiny against H-1B visa applications spurred an unprecedented upsurge in RFE notices in 2017. Although RFE were not uncommon for H-1B applications, given the bulk of information required to prove both the qualifications of the employee and the employers need for the specialty hire, the upsurge was far from usual. With so many H-1B visas pending, there was an enormous backlog of H-1B applications. The memo release on July 13thwould cut down on issuance of RFEs and would instead automatically deny insufficient H-1B applications. Although the recent USCIS change aims to cut down on backlogs in visa application processing, the memo may spell a wave of unprecedented deportations.

Separately, the two above mentioned USCIS memos present only extreme inconveniences to visa applicants and employers. Together, these policies spell trouble for H-1B visa holders and all foreign nationals wishing to live and work in the United States. Under the new policies, H-1B applications, which are often delayed due to RFE’s, could be automatically denied for insufficient evidence, without notice to the employee or employer. Following denial from USCIS, even in circumstances in which the applications fell short due to clerical errors, these employees could receive a NTA and face deportation. Although extreme, these policies would allow a legal non-immigrant worker living in the United States awaiting their visa renewal to go from working in the United States to being sentenced to immediately depart the country.

Although the memo aimed to reduce the number of NOIDs and RFEs sent to visa applicants has yet to go into effect, the impact of the recent changes to USCIS procedures is likely to affect thousands. Combined, these two memos may spell catastrophe for legal immigration in the United States.

USCIS Can Now Deny at Will: NOID & RFE (Part I of 2)

For many years, USCIS adjudicators have provided applicants & petitioners with the benefit of the doubt. As such, applications, petitions, and requests were not outright denied if a USCIS officer noticed an absence of evidence or if evidence was insufficient for eligibility. For years, USCIS officers instead issued requests for evidence notices (RFE) or a Notice of Intent to Deny (NOID) to those who submitted insufficient applications. During this time, USCIS officers denied only applications in which there was “no possibility” of acceptance. However, a recent memo from USCIS may bring about unfortunate changes in the ways that officers process visa applications.

Early this month, USCIS released a policy memorandum providing adjudicators with greater autonomy in denying a visa application, petition, or request. The five-year procedural commitment to providing applicants with notice of challenges to their applications will now yield to a much harsher policy. USCIS officers may now deny requests for immigration benefits if they determine that there is insufficient evidence to grant the application. Thus, an application will be solely tied to an adjudicator’s interpretation of “insufficient” starting September 11th. For example, if a waiver is submitted with little supporting evidence, the application will be denied without a RFE or NOID. Additionally, applications which require supplementary material, both official and other, that establish the eligibility of an application will be denied if the required information is not submitted with the application (e.g. The affidavit of support does not accompany the application for permanent residence). Excluded from applications impacted by the memo are those submitted under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

In a statement, the Director for USCIS praised the memo as an end to “frivolous filings and skeletal applications used to game the system.” Director Cissna hopes that, by allowing USCIS officers to eliminate frivolous and incomplete filings, the organization will be better equipped to quickly process legitimate applications. However, the memo removes the opportunity to mend legitimate mistakes made to applications. Although the procedural change does not go into effect for another two months, the decision is sure to impact many awaiting a decision from USCIS.

Read Part 2 of this news brief.

Advance Parole: Canadian Citizens & Other Considerations

Leaving the United States, even for a brief period of time, can be extremely complicated for foreign nationals. This risk increases if an individual wishes to leave the United States while an adjustment of status (AOS) application remains pending, because that individual runs the risk of abandoning their pending AOS application. To prevent this from occurring, advance parole serves as a valid immigration document for re-entry into the United States following international travel. Only a handful of visa holders may leave the U.S. with a pending AOS application without having first acquired advance parole (i.e. individuals and dependents in valid H-1B, L, and K3/4 status). For everyone else, applying for advance parole requires several months of processing times and valid documentation. However, if you are a citizen of Canada, you may lack the proper documentation to receive approval for both advance parole and an AOS.

When foreign national arrives into the United States, Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) provides them with a copy of their arrival/departure record or Form I-94. As one of the few exceptions, Canadian citizens do not receive an I-94 upon arrival into the United States. Thus, Canadian citizens are at a disadvantage because adjustment of status requires a record of arrival/departure i.e. Form I-94. To complete the application, Canadian citizens may request an arrival/departure record through the Deferred Inspection Site. Additionally, if you do not have any evidence of your legal entry, Canadian citizens may request their arrival document through a Freedom of Information (FOIA) request.

Although citizens of Canada may enter the United States without a visa, they must obtain advance parole before leaving the United States if their application for permanent residence is pending at the time of the departure. Unless the citizen of Canada holds one of the special classes of visa excluded from the advance parole requirement, the individual will abandon their pending AOS application upon departure. If you are unsure whether you require advanced parole before you upcoming trip, please feel free to contact our office for a consultation.

Threats to Non-Immigrant Workers: USCIS Gains Deportation Referral Power

Recently, the United States Customs and Immigration Service (USCIS) released a policy memo endowing every adjudicating officer, and all USCIS employees, the power to issue a notice to appear, or NTA. With this policy change, USCIS employees may now initiate the removal and deportation of an individual that does not maintain lawful presence.

Background

Although USCIS has always maintained the power to issue an NTA, previous procedures required USCIS employees to make written recommendations for removal notices to the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for certain instances of unlawful presence. However, following the Executive Order Enhancing Public Security in the United States in 2017, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) altered many immigration related priorities. In adherence to the new DHS standards, the policy memo now allows a more streamlined and swift deportation process. For both foreign nationals and employers, this policy memo can spell big trouble during renewal processing.

 Major Changes

In addition to retaining it’s previous NTA procedures, USCIS will now issue NTAs for any of the application situations listed below, without the need to process the request through ICE.

  • Instances of reasonably suspected fraud or misrepresentation, including if an applicant misused any program related to the receipt of public benefits. (Regardless if the case is denied for reasons other than fraud, USCIS will initiate a removal request);
  • Instances of a criminally convicted or charged applicants, regardless if inadmissibility was determined by criminal record. (USCIS may also refer cases involving serious criminal activity to ICE before USCIS issues a denial of immigration benefits or NTA);
  • Instances in which USCIS denies an application for naturalization, on good moral character grounds because of a criminal offense; and
  • Instances of an unfavorable decision on an application, petition, or benefit request, in which the foreign national is not lawfully present in the United States.

Appeals & Consequences

Many foreign nationals at the mercy of the extreme backlogs encumbering USCIS face unlawful presence while waiting for an application decision. Under this new policy memo, these individuals are now at greater risk of deportation. Although aliens may appeal an NTA, the risk involved leaves many employers wary of hiring new foreign national employees or approving renewal requests. If you have any concerns about your lawful presence and or whether the policy memo effects you, please do not hesitate to call our office to schedule a consultation.

The Trump Administration Threatens Citizenship

According to the Washington Post, the Trump Administration aims to threaten naturalized citizens through the use of decades old fingerprint analysis. Denaturalization, or revoking citizenship, is extremely rare and occurs only in extreme cases of fraud or criminal activity.  Now the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the United States Customs and Immigration Service (USCIS) teamed up to investigate immigration fraud, the possibility of denaturalization increased drastically. This investigation led to a Federal court decision which removed U.S. citizenship from a native of India. Following the decision, the director of USCIS, L. Francis Cissna has devoted more USCIS resources towards analyzing decades old fingerprint data to uncover citizenship fraud.

After the Federal court judge revoked citizenship on the grounds of fingerprint evidence, the Trump Administration gained the precedent necessary to investigate the citizenship of thousands of naturalized citizens who’s fingerprints were collected in the 1990s. The director of USCIS, L. Francis Cissna, confirmed to the Associated Press that USCIS was hiring new lawyers and immigration officers to investigate potential fraudulent citizenship claims by digitizing old fingerprints. According to the Washington Post “If decades-old fingerprints gathered during a deportation match those of someone who did not disclose that deportation on their naturalization application or used a different name, that individual could be targeted.” This announcement displays a shift in attitudes towards revoking citizenship; as such, denaturalization may become a common occurrence.

Conclusion

Director Cissna is clear in that the new USCIS effort to remove citizenship from naturalized immigrants is an effort to crack down on fraudulent citizenship claims. Therefore, those who have lived as citizens of the United States for decades may soon be stripped of their claims to the United States.